Seven Of La Mesa's Best For 2012LA MESA -- In a general election year, you might expect to see politicians rise in importance in the community. But this year's nominees for La Mesan of the Year might be described as heroes rising from ashes of challenging political times.
Educators lead the list.
Imagine working in education these days. Sacramento is in turmoil, beset by a struggling economy and a political environment that puts the state government in the role of doling out distasteful medicine state-wide. Schools get a double dose. You are slashing teachers, cutting salaries and raising class sizes at the very moment that educational technology is demanding innovation and an entrepreneurial spirit.
So the first nominee for La Mesan of the year is really a group of four who contribute much to the life of this city. The four are:
- Brian Marshall, Superintendent of the La Mesa-Spring Valley School District, who has had to travel to work for many months now with a heavy heart. Despite massive layoffs and the relocation of the sixth grades to reduce costs, Marshall managed to keep the train on the tracks so far. Even in its darkest hours, his board managed to balance the budget, keep parents positive and engaged and has launched a self-analysis to consider establishing magnet schools within the district. Other districts, facing such obstacles, have simply turtled and hung on for dear life.
- Christina Callaway and Mitchell Miller, co-directors of College Preparatory Middle School. Though neither of these young educators sleep in La Mesa each night, both have contributed a leadership during their day times among us to be considered for this honor. Starting a charter school targeting the challenging middle school years at the height of a crisis in education funding may have been considered folly by some, yet Callaway and Miller have managed to tap the energies of a local church community and have in two years added school uniforms, no-frills facilities and test scores that have put a La Mesa school into territory usually dominated by wealthier school communities in Poway and Rancho Bernardo. College Preparatory Middle School's early success may have, at least subliminally, inspired the La Mesa-Spring Valley District to consider adding magnet programs.
- Dr. Mark Arapostathis. No offense to his work on the City Council, but it is Arapostathis' long-time role in education that earns him a spot on this year's La Mesa of the Year nominee's list. In a time when school district funding forced more and more facets of traditional education to be pushed from the schools, Arapostathis, both a second-grade teacher and director of the Peter Pan Jr. Theater and C-Hook Theater groups, continued showing what one, energetic and entrepreneurial person can do to fill in the gaps. Arapostathis and his team have kept the arts as an important part of adolescent life for hundreds of families and Arapostathis has also used creative techniques in his classroom to help he and his parents adjust to larger class sizes and the ever-increasing range of student he finds before him each year. Check out Arapostathis' interactive class website and his C-Hook and Peter Pan sites to see how he has extended educational efforts beyond his classroom.
- Yvonne Garrett carries the sort of title in La Mesa City Hall that usually keeps her in the background. Assistant City Managers and Community Service Directors -- she plays both roles -- are usually like good referees; they are doing their best jobs when they are not noticed and stay quietly out of the limelight. But in the months leading up to the City's Centennial Year and throughout this year, Garrett has managed to organize an army of community volunteers, while building excitement -- and attendance. Almost monthly, Centennial events have involved a wide range of community members and helped remind us all of what makes La Mesa a jewel. If she is not toasted publicly at the Centennial-ending "Party of the Century" gala, she is here. Well done Ms. Garrett.
- Midge Hyde is the sort of tireless promoter for the arts that makes a big difference in a small town. She needed that spirit fully in 2012 as she endeavored to redefine the term "art gallery" while also contributing to a revival of a traditionally challenged part of La Mesa. If you haven't yet visited Hyde's Biz Art Center on El Cajon Boulevard, you're missing a truly refreshing effort to both support local artists but also demonstrate the way art can enrich us all. No stuffy, brie-filled urbane enclave tucked away in an arts ghetto for Ms. Hyde. She has managed to enrich every day life with the arts in a new and innovative effort worth checking out.
- Police Chief Ed Aceves took office at a time when armed robberies at convenience stores seemed as regular as sunny days in La Mesa. While some locals were clamoring for the hiring of "an outsider" to bring new blood into the force, Aceves, who has spent his career in La Mesa, quickly rearranged his leadership team, made out-reach to the community a priority and has impressed even his doubters. Crime rates continue to fall and arrests in "stop and rob" cases have become more frequent. If economic pressures continue to promote public safety consolidation, Aceves and his troops are clearly making a strong argument for the status quo.